Friday, 21 October 2011

Acting rationally in difficult circumstances

Contrary to what is commonly believed, individuals extract massive advantages from telling lies and pretending to be convinced by them. A large number of people are perfectly conscious of the falsehood of many social conventions, but still, those practices are maintained, endorsed, and enforced.

It is a fact that millions of men and women comply daily with silly rules that they could avoid if they wished. When a corporation allows lies to shape its culture, History shows that most employees will shrug their shoulders and pretend to see what does not exist.

Would you call someone irrational if he chooses to behave in a manner that allows him to keep his job, at least for a while? In those situations, revenue projections of companies become unrealistic, profits are faked, and bookkeeping loses touch with reality. A few months later, the business collapses.

Such stories appear so frequently in newspapers that we almost take for granted that people will learn from example. Next time, we tell ourselves, things will be better. After every scandal, we love to believe that manipulation and corruption will not happen again. Unfortunately, this hope never comes true and it doesn't take long before the next scandal comes to light.

Why are such problems so ingrained in society? What makes human beings support fantasies in word and deed? How is it possible that we devote so much effort to lying to ourselves? The correct answer is not that people are sick and evil. No, the truth is more complex than that.

There are three reasons that explain why many men and women are deeply invested in falsehood. Social convenience is the first, since it feels good to belong to the overwhelming majority. Financial benefit is the second, since certain doors are closed to those who ask uncomfortable questions. The third motive, fear of rejection, is perhaps the strongest.

No wonder that, in History, philosophical and social progress are achieved only little by little, by taking infinitesimal steps. Each of those justifications possesses extraordinary appeal on its own. All three combined are almost irresistible. Nevertheless, experience proves that, in the long run, pretence and manipulation inevitably destroy a man's life.

* Social convenience leads people to repress their best ideas. The habit of seeking conformity at all times deprives men of the force to speak out their dreams and stake their claims.

* The financial benefits of lying, although sweet, tend to be short-lived. Schemes that look too profitable to be true lead those who engage in them, more often than not, to heavy monetary losses.

* In industrial societies, the negative consequences of rejection are wildly exaggerated. Nowadays, global markets allow innovators to find their public anywhere in the world even if their ideas are not appreciated by their neighbours.

Thinking for ourselves is difficult in the face of opposition. Taking the golden promises of social convenience always seems, at first sight, the obvious choice, but blind conformity to the world's fantasies destroys man's life. Becoming aware of long-term consequences and acting rationally can be hard at times, but they mark the path to real success and happiness.


[Image by kevindooley under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]